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Black Children in the Child Protection System

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In recent years, child abuse among black African families has attracted a lot of attention, academically and politically in British social work practice following the tragic death of Victoria Climbie (Laming, 2003) and Adam (Sale, 2005). Many of the research and literature on child abuse since the 1989 Children Act have not extensively discussed the aspect of poverty and child abuse. For many years social work interventions with black African families and children alleged of cases of child abuse have been a controversial topic. The difficulties black African families experience are not limited only to the foreign culture they find themselves in, but other issues may be significant, such as cultural differences in child-rearing, poverty, government policy and the intervention tools and processes.

Research evidence suggests that black African children in the UK are over-represented in the child protection system for a variety of reasons such as physical and sexual abuse or neglect. Chand (1999) research on black African families and the child protection system highlights the over-representation of black families (58%) compared to white families (42%) on referrals involving physical injury. Another research shows that referrals involving inadequate supervision of children are disproportionately higher among black African families than white families. Some black African children are involved in the child protection system because their families are unable to provide adequate care for them. Bernard & Gupta (2008) study also found that black African children and families are more likely than white families to be drawn into the child protection system on the basis of inherent differences in beliefs and child-rearing practices.

The aim of this work is to suggest that black African children and families, due to a number of reasons, are more or less likely to be investigated of child abuse by social workers and other professions. The possible implications for black families being more or less likely to be investigated are either black African children will become over-represented in local authority care under the child protection system or they will not receive the appropriate intervention by social workers under the child welfare system and make children to be subjected to further abuse or neglect by their parents (Chand, 1999). According to Chand (1999) even when abuse among black families is identified, the service provision for the abused children are hampered by lack of resources and this cause delays in assessment and the provision of treatment where specialized services are required. The 1989 Children Act may classify many African children on the child protection register in the UK as children in need as their parents are more likely to live below the poverty line (DoH, 1989). Poverty is linked with reports of abuse and neglect and African families are proportionately more likely to live in poverty than many of the other communities in the UK (Bernard & Gupta, 2008). According to Fontes (2006) people who are affected by child abuse are nestled by a variety of social and material domains that are highly interconnected and interactive. Therefore the poverty status of African families living in the UK is an important factor to be considered by social workers working with African families alleged of child abuse.

Many African families have negative perception about social workers who work on cases of alleged child abuse, as they employ an assessment and intervention process that is based on euro-centric child protection procedures and as such view black families, their culture and lifestyle as inherently problematic and need correcting (Chand, 1999). This negative perception of social work practice by African families and children living in the UK breed grounds for mistrust and apprehension and make working with such families a major challenge for social workers.

Bernard & Gupta (2008) argued that black African children and their families are more likely than white families to be investigated of child abuse and therefore are over-represented on the child protection register under the category of poor parenting behaviours. However, black African families are also under-represented in receiving preventative supports such as housing needs, financial benefits that is required to address any family needs and to improve children welfare. Singh (2006) findings show that African families and their entrenched cultural and social perceptions of parenting behaviours are difficult to understand in the context of contemporary social work practice and therefore social workers may be quick to intervene in such families.

Bernard & Gupta (2008) also found in their research work that the majority of black African families who have migrated to the UK because of war, poverty, and tribal anarchies in their home countries, also have difficulty not only how to adapt to the western culture in which they find themselves but how they may be viewed by social workers involved in child care. Most social work professionals working with black African families do not appreciate the poverty background of such families and would feel justified to make judgements resulting into mistrust and disengagement from both parties. However, according to Bernard & Gupta (2008) the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families places a requirement on social workers to consider families' backgrounds and cultural perspectives when dealing with cases of child abuse. Korbin (2004) argues that social workers face difficulties in employing appropriate intervention in child abuse cases as the processes involved in child abuse assessment may be complex and parental behaviours may not be the same in different cultures and socio-economic settings. In view of this perception, Bernard & Gupta (2008) states 'that a focus on maltreatment or dysfunction within African families can risk stereotyping this ethnic minority as deficient, thus fostering pathological viewpoint of African family relationships'(p 478 ).

This raises the question of what type of social work intervention is needed to be used by social workers working with black African families living in economic poverty so that vulnerable children are fully supported and protected, and not just drawing these children into the child protection system. This professional dilemma in social work practice presents a major challenge and therefore, calls for a new perspective in work ideologies and practices, the way information is disseminated on how the child protection system works, training on child-rearing differences in black African culture, social work values and enhancing collaboration with other professions. With a change in social work practice, social workers will develop the skills to distinguish between the styles of parenting inherent in African families which is not necessarily harmful to children and those parenting behaviours that are harmful. This point will be further discussed in chapter two.

The dissertation will draw on social work theories, policies and practice, key models and literature search from electronic journals to web search on child abuse, social work intervention and child protection system. The main emphasis of this dissertation looks at the available literature on black African families involved in the child protection system, focusing on specific poverty-related parenting practices that give rise to issues of child abuse. The methodology for this work is mainly qualitative and the literature obtained from both primary and secondary sources. The dissertation examines various issues such as how social work professionals should perceive and manage child abuse among black African families living below the poverty-line, what interventions social workers need to employ that would support these families to provide adequate child-care for their children and the possible reasons why black African children and their families may be over-represented in the child protection systems.

The first chapter examines the literature on black African children and the child protection system. Chapter two provides a discussion on the increased complexity of social work intervention in child abuse cases involving black African families living in poverty. It also analyse how poverty could complicate parenting behaviours that impact on child-rearing which, tends to draw black African children living in the UK into the child protection arena. Then chapter three draws on legislations and policies regulating social work practices in the UK. It also examines contemporary social work practice in child abuse cases among African families. Chapter four critically analyses the various methods of interventions available to social workers when working with black African families. Finally chapter five discusses the implications of social work intervention among African families living in poverty.



The prevalence of Black children in the child protection system

Many children are drawn into the child protection system for many different reasons. The majority of these children go through distressing and damaging experiences, which may include physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect. Some children living with poor families come under the child protection system as result of families' parenting behaviours and practices, oppression, discriminations and cultural values. Considering the child protection system and black African families, Bernard & Gupta (2006) have critically analysed the evidence on the disproportionate representation of black African families on the child protection register. Brophy et al (2003) study highlights the proportion of minority ethnic families and their children represented on the child protection register involve several allegations about parental behaviours and practices. Chand (1999) states that 'different child-rearing methods used in different cultures mean that as an outsider, understanding what is the norm and what is deviant is problematic...and trying to distinguish the risks in one family from the another, social workers may fall back on moral judgements'(p.72).

In contemporary social work practice many social workers are faced with difficulty situations when assessing and making decisions on child care issues among African children and their families who are living in poverty. It is paramount in view of available literature to say that when social workers acknowledge and understands these families' financial backgrounds and their cultural identity through effective communications, it is possible they will come to terms with some of their parenting behaviours and practices. However, where families go over the boundaries of child-rearing to inflict physical and emotional harm on their children, which is evident in Victoria Climbie inquiry, it should be understood that such families have gone beyond what is acceptable not only within the western culture but in their own culture (Chand, 1999). Therefore, if social workers understand the causes of parental behavioural patterns of African families, they will be well-informed to determine whether a particular parenting behaviours should be considered within the protection process or to provide advice and support for such families under children in need (Chand, 1999).

The challenges social work practitioners experience when using the assessment processes as detailed in the Climbie Inquiry (Laming, 2003) is crucial to the safety and protection of black children whose families have immigrated into the UK. Sometimes social workers may be stereotyped as racist and ethnocentric, as they do not acknowledge and address issues of poverty-related parental behaviours of African families in the assessment process of a child abuse case (Chand, 1999). Under the Government's Every Child Matters policy, social workers first priority is to ensure children live with their families if it is best to do so. In addition to this policy, it is the responsibility of the social services or local authorities to create the enabling environment for the provision of preventative services to families so that these families can provide appropriate care for their children. According to the Department for Education and Skills (2006b) statistical data a significant proportion of black African children are on the child protection register. A number of studies tend to support the view that families of these children lives in poverty and struggle to raise their children to the standard set up by government legislation. Therefore it is difficult to say whether social services are meeting the agenda detailed in the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health, 2000) which places on social workers the responsibility to consider families' backgrounds and cultural values when dealing with child care issues.

Thoburn et al.'s (2005) review of the nature and outcomes of child welfare services for black children concluded that African children are almost twice as likely to be looked after than the white majority children in the population as a whole, which then suggest, that some of these children will be accommodated under section 20 of the 1989 Children Act, by virtue of being raised by families living in poverty. However, there are a number of contributory factors which could be perceived as important in understanding the involvement of black African families with social work agencies and the resultant over-representation of their children in the child protection system. Child abuse and neglects may be linked to poor parental practices and poverty by families who are supposed to be responsible for looking after these children. Therefore the poverty experienced by many African families and children may be resolved through a more preventative welfare services rather than child protection services. Platt (2006) study on the refocusing initiative on social work practices from the child protection orientation to a child welfare orientation underpins government legislation, policies and procedures and management efforts to redirect social work interventions more towards welfare services. Also through child welfare practices social workers may appreciate the difficulties that families experience and may endeavour to meet children and their family financial and social needs through a range of social and preventative services.

The government legislations and policies

The most relevant legislation in the UK that aims to protect children from abuse and harm is the Children Act (1989), of which Section 47 expects local authorities to make enquiries into cases where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and Section 17 makes provision for a child to be assessed with a view to the provision of services to children in need (Platt, 2006). Therefore there are two definitive objectives of the Children Act (1989), the child protection focus and the child welfare focus. Many black African children referred to social services under the child protection system may not necessarily be suffering from any harm or neglect if the situation is considered in the context of parenting behaviours and practices (Chand, 1999). According to Platt (2006), the Audit Commission recommendation to shift from the popular investigational work use by social workers to a family support services, was a result of many failings identified by many other government bodies. This wind of change for social work practice was accepted by the Department of Health, after examining the publication, Child Protection: Messages from Research (Department of Health, 1995). Chand (1999) argues that the child protection system tends to draw too many cases inappropriately onto the child protection register, of which many may be classified as border-line cases, that could have being managed under the children welfare services.

Whilst other research findings support the view that the child protection system seems to have achieved as much as could be expected in terms of preventing further abuse of vulnerable children. Hayes and Spratt (2008) argue that such achievement is not in ways most readily understood by those who legislate, set policy and measure performance. Bernard & Gupta (2008) highlights in their study that, 'in situations in which there is a risk of abuse or neglect of African children, as with other minority ethnic children, the literature suggests that fear of difference, combined with racist stereotypes, may both exacerbate defensive practice, leading to avoidance that can leave children unprotected' (p486). The Department of Health (1995) emphasises that social work professionals need to rely on various policies and measures since child abuse is not an absolute concept and most family behaviours have to be seen in context before decisions of abuse are made (Chand 1999, p. 70).

Although child protection social workers in the UK are trained to follow the official guidance as set out in the Department of Health (1988) Protecting Children: A guide for Social Workers undertaking a Comprehensive Assessment, this guidance in the context of black African children and their families, fall short in addressing their basic needs (Chand, 1999). Against this background, the quality of social work assessment and, hence intervention process used by social workers may stereotype black African families, their parenting behaviours and practice and culture as inherent indicators of child abuse and need correcting (Chand, 1999). The fundamental dilemma facing contemporary social work practice is the manner and extent social workers should engage in social welfare services rather than in investigational procedures and processes, so as to redirect its efforts primarily to the poor and needy in society (Karger & Hernandez, 2004). From the 1990s there have been proactive and sustained efforts on behalf of the UK government to develop and promote legislation and policies, which challenge the influence of a child protection culture on management and social work practice, which notably are perceived as distorting the balance of service provision to children and families (Spratt & Callan, 2004).

Pringle (1998) argued that the family support strategies may focus on the generalization of responses compared with child protection procedures that target actual nature of the alleged abuse. Cleaver & Walker (2004) argued in their research, that the implementation of this switch from child protection to child welfare services by social work agencies can have negative and difficult impact on the government Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. According to Hayes & Spratt (2008) the government has seen a remarkable reduction in the number of children drawn into the child protection system, which commends local authorities' effort to help achieve performance targets. Spratt & Callan (2004) criticized the reductions in number of children on the child protection register, as being achieved largely due to modern governance and measures to promote compliance with performance targets. However, following Baby 'P' report children's services watchdog, Ofsted, reported that a review of 173 serious cases in April 2009, found that social workers and other agencies, failed to act swiftly to put children suffering from physical and neglect abuse onto the child protection register (www.ofstednews.ofsted.gov.uk/article). Ofsted also identified certain poor social work practices such as the failure of social services workers to identify and report signs of abuse, poor recording and communication, and limited knowledge and application of basic policies and procedures (www.ofstednews.ofsted.gov.uk/article).This report has since seen an increase in the number of children drawn into the child protection system.

According to Chand (1999), the UK government reiterated that the primary and official duties of local authorities within the context of the 1989 Children Act is to focus more on safeguarding children through the provision of advice and support services under 'children in need'. In Spratt & Callan (2004) study the Department of Health estimates four million children living in England are vulnerable to harm or neglect, due to their families living far below the poverty line, yet only 300-400,000 of these children are known to social services at any given time. Thoburn et al (2000) study on families, whose children were at risk of suffering emotional abuse and neglect, shows that 98% of the children brought to the attention of child protection system, their families live in poverty. Parton (1997) argued that due to the correlation between poverty and the need for provision of public services, only the very small number of vulnerable children who are designated as children in need receive services under the welfare service. Spratt & Callan (2004) suggest that a more effective way social work can help such vulnerable children, particularly black African children, who may be over-represented on the child protection register, is the government increasing resources to local authorities, increasing the number of social workers and reshaping the social services system.

Therefore, with regard to the governments provision of resources, legislation and policies, the model or intervention approach social workers may employ when working with black African families living in extreme poverty, will determine whether a family receives a child protection service or a child welfare service.



Poverty and Child Protection

The area of poverty and child protection with black African families has been the source of controversy in British social work research for many decades. Many researchers find a correlation between economic deprivation such as poverty and social exclusion and parenting behaviour and practice, child-rearing capabilities and skills which are a prerequisite for proper child development anywhere in the world. Moreover, according to Jordan (2001) poverty is correlated with reports of abuse and neglect. For instance, the National Centre for Children in Poverty found in 1990 that 'the incidence of child abuse and neglect, as well as the severity of the maltreatment reported, is much greater for children from low-income families than for others' (Jordan, 2001 p.1). As a large number of Africans in the UK live below the poverty line, it may be reckoned that most black African children on the child protection register live below the poverty line.

Brophy et al (2003) argue that many families brought to the attention of the child protection system lives in extreme poverty and may experience social exclusion. Black African children living in the UK may be over-represented in the child protection system for reasons such as physical abuse or neglect; therefore it is understandable to say that there is a correlation between abuse and parenting behaviours and practices. The question is why African families and their children living in poverty, who are alleged of child abuse, are over-represented in the child protection system? Sossou &Yogtiba (2008) noted in their study that a child is the most valuable asset of any traditional African family, as children symbolise status, respect and completeness of the nuclear family, if that is the case, then it is ironical to see African families and their children to be over-represented in the child protection system.

Many black African families in the UK still lives below the poverty-line though they undertake different types of unskilled or skilled jobs, as they support large families in their countries of origin (Anane-Agyei, 2002). It may be reckon that poverty is linked with other social disadvantages such as poor education, limited employment opportunities, and poor health and may have devastating consequences for children's development and life chances. Research shows that many African families and their children may have insecure immigration status and their existing financial predicaments only help to complicate their parenting behaviours and practices. Penrose (2002) study shows that African families seeking asylum are often forced to live at level of poverty that is just unacceptable, and this puts financial constraint on them to provide adequate childcare for their children. Unemployment levels are known to be very high among African families, and they are also subject of stigmatization and prejudice by the larger community that are suppose to accept them.

According to Bernard & Gupta (2008) immigration and asylum status determines income, employment opportunities and access to support services for many African people in the UK and these issues of entitlement to services only complicate their cases. Some African families living in the UK may be without jobs and may not also be entitled to social and economic benefit and therefore may find it difficult to care for their children. Children growing up with parents living in poverty may be deprived of proper childhood development ( Montith & Eithne, 2005). African families living in poverty and failing to provide good care for their children may be perceived by social work professionals as failing in their parental responsibilities (Chand, 1999). For this reason, social workers may intervene in such families and often than not they are drawn into the child protection system.

Amin & Oppenheim (2002) argue that the unfamiliar cultural expectation of black African families living in the UK somehow contribute to the high level of poverty they experience. Research shows that many African families suffer from institutional oppression including housing, employment, education and health which not only means that they are more likely to experience poverty and deprivation, but also more susceptible to social work interventions in child abuse or maltreatment allegations. Corby (1993) noted that it may be expected that black African children are over-represented in child abuse cases because their families are more open to surveillance as they show high levels of poverty that complicate their parenting behaviours (Chand, 1999 p73). In a broader perspective, Pearce & Bozalek (2004) emphasise that 'the child protection system that exist in Britain will be unfamiliar to many African families, especially those more recently arrived, as similar state systems do not exist in most African countries, particularly where socio-economic factors, political instability and violence overshadow intra-familial child maltreatment and effective intervention into child abuse and neglect' (Bernard & Gupta, 2006 p481).

Brophy et al (2003) study supports the above assertion that African families experience discrimination and insecurity in child abuse cases, as the tools for assessing abuse are often euro-centric bias and prejudice the families. Chand (1999) study expresses the awareness that black African families are disadvantaged through oppression in all areas of society and this should not reflect in social work practice.

Gibbon et al (2003) findings show that the child protection system was picking up more alleged child abuse cases inappropriately and putting more families and children on the child protection register than children who are subject to social welfare procedures. Therefore the over-representation of African families on the child protection register somehow, undermines the government aim of keeping children with families and reducing the number of children that are drawn onto the child protection register. The Department of Health (1995) document on child protection identified some pertinent shortcomings with the child protection system, as it seems to encourage unnecessary child protection interventions in border-line child abuse cases. Bernard & Gupta (2008) in their study of black African children and the child protection system suggest that there are a series of interactions between environmental factors such as poverty, immigration status and social exclusion that affect the life chances of many African children and the capacity of their parents to provide adequate care. Dowling (1999) realise that social work practice in the UK focus less on poverty-alleviating strategies but throw more resources behind safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children from abuse or maltreatment. Social workers need to understand the context in which abuse occurs, irrespective of race and culture, to develop an assessment and intervention process that is fairer for black families as they are more likely to suffer racism and oppression. In view of the above argument, it is pertinent that social workers know when to employ preventative measures to support black African families who have financial needs and when to take such families through the child protection system in the quest for safeguarding children.

All these factors together create complex needs for many African children living in the UK, and, in many circumstances increase their vulnerabilities which draw them into the child protection arena. Bernard & Gupta (2008) argued that only by developing effective relationships with African families can social work professionals can begin to understand their parenting behaviours and practices.

Poverty and Child Welfare Services

Current literature shows that poverty experience by most black African families living in the UK could be alleviated by social work services that offer a pragmatic welfare services rather than drawing these families and children into the child protection system. Brophy et al (2003) study suggests that immigration and asylum issues, combined with poverty, are likely to be some of the reasons for the increased complexity for social work professionals assessing and intervening child abuse cases involving black African children. The Department of Health challenges social workers with the responsibility to work with Section 17 of the Children Act 1995, so as to provide adequate social support for children in need via the child welfare services (Platt, 2006). However, social work agencies have not fully achieved the government agenda of alleviating poverty experience by many families and children due to inadequate resources at all levels of social work practice.

The Department of Health have indicated that most families, struggle to bring up their children in conditions of material and emotional adversity (DoH, 2001). For instance black African families experiencing poverty may fail in their responsibility to provide proper care for their children as they spent almost all their time working to make ends meet. Such children hardly experience family treats such as going on a family holiday trip, having birthday parties and they are deprived of having basic playing toys and games that help children to learn and grow into adulthood. The lack of affordable basic needs for children of poor families complicated with other social adversities may contribute to poor children developing aggressive behaviours, low self-esteem, picking up awkward attitudes, and may to suffer from social deprivation. Fontes (2005) realises that many traditional immigrant families, where black Africans are part of, may use an authoritative style of parenting, demanding total obedience and respect from their children.

Although these parental practices may not necessarily constitute child abuse, it may clash with the child-rearing norms, and thus seems to bring African children and families to the attention of the child protection system (Fontes, 2005). When social workers start acknowledging borderline child abuse cases and understand the difficulties families living in poverty experience in raising their children, they would be able to strike a good balance between when to employ a child protection intervention and a child welfare intervention (Spratt & Callan, 2004). It is evident that children living in poverty may benefit from the child welfare services as stipulated in section 17 of the 1989 Children Act, as it aims at alleviating poverty in families and children in need (Platt, 2006). According to Thoburn et al (2007) investigations of alleged child abuse cases tend to focus more on risk assessment rather than assessment about developmental and social needs of the child in entity. In particular, social workers carrying out an investigation into alleged child abuse may not pick up parental and child upbringing issues resulting from poverty or social deprivation (Farmer and Owen, 2005). Brophy et al (2003) study highlights 'that many black African parents, saw state intervention in parenting as a complete anathema and distrust.., especially where they have immigrated from countries in political turmoil and with no child welfare services' (Bernard & Gupta, 2008 p.481).

Arguably social work intervention in child maltreatment or abuse cases seems to contradict Section 17 of the Children Act, as recent research reveals high levels of satisfaction amongst parents and children receiving social welfare services compare to those families drawn into child protection (Tunstill and Aldgate, 2000). The relationship between social work mission with regard to poverty and the type of social work practice poses a dilemma for social workers. The refocusing initiative of social work practice, as defined by Platt (2006), in child abuse cases may benefit families living in extreme poverty, only when social work interventions aim at promoting social change in families. Thus, social welfare interventions promote and empower families with social and financial difficulties and who also suffer social exclusion to develop appropriate parental behaviours and skill that encourage proper child care (Monnickendam and Monnickendam, 2009).

Poverty and Parenting Practices

Poverty among many black African families affects the physical and emotional developments of African children living anywhere in the world. Poverty may influence parents' behaviours and capabilities to provide for their families the basic needs of life. Bernard & Gupta (2008) study highlights the limited attention given to child-rearing practices of African families in child welfare research in the UK. According to Chand (1999) different child-rearing practices exist in different cultures, but there is just one kind of child-rearing practice that is considered 'normal'. Many research findings point out to the fact that poverty- related parenting practices influence the lives of many African children involved in the child protection system. Thus, Child (1999) comments that when differences in child-rearing and ethnicity are explored the black family is often pathologized and their strengths ignored. For instance black African families are too strict and beat their children or tend to punish their children in a more punitive way. Therefore, according to Chand (1999) discipline is one area where African families are found to be over-represented in the child protection system. It is important, that social workers redirect attention from child protection interventions to the provision of preventative services to support families in need. Shor (2000) argue that the relationship between values and child upbringing patterns illuminates the relationship between poverty and parenting behaviours, as parents from low social class differ in terms of the values they uphold for their children.

Shor (2000) also argue that there is correlation between black African mothers with low income status using a more authoritarian approach of caring for their children than mothers with high income status. Thus, according to Fontes (2005), many traditional immigrant families may use an authoritative style of parenting, demanding total obedience and respect from their children, although this parental behaviour may not necessarily constitute child abuse, but may contravene the norms of the land, and bring such parents to the attention of the child protection system. It is therefore paramount for social work professionals working with black African families living in the UK to develop the requisite knowledge and skills, not only across diverse cultures but understanding the influence of poverty and social exclusion on parental behaviours and capabilities.

The Government Regulatory Policies

In the early 1990s there was an enormous government effort to develop and promote policies which challenge the influence of a child protection culture on management and social work practice, which has been perceived as distorting the balance of service provision to children and families (Spratt and Callan, 2004). The refocusing initiative necessitated the shift in social work practice from what appeared to be an overly child protection perspective towards a child welfare orientation in the United Kingdom (Platt, 2006). According to Platt (2006) the advocacy for a shift in social work practice from an overly focus child protection work perspective towards a child welfare practice shows a gradual move towards poverty alleviation among poor families living in the UK. Both Parton(1995) and Pelton (1998) research supports the need to overcome pertinent obstacles in the manner social work is practice to achieve social change at family or community levels, and emphasised the failure of the child-care systems attempt to manage child protection risks and meet the needs of children and their families. However, the government's policy as stated in the 1989 Children Act aims to integrate child protection and child welfare services. According to Platt (2006) many children who are subjects of section 47 investigations are also eligible for services as 'children in need'. To reinstate public trust, the government have redefined the primary duties of local authorities within the context of the 1989 Children Act so as to safeguard and provide services needed by poor children by conducting initial assessments, rather than child protection investigations in borderline cases. This policy implementation has become possible by procedural adjustments to other legislative guidance such as Working Together to Safeguard Children and the subsequent implementation of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Platt, 2006).

The mid-1990s saw a growing consensus that many children who are subjects of Section 47 investigations due to alleged abuse or neglect are also eligible for services as children in need as in Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act (Platt, 2006). Often, Platt (2006) reckoned such children do not receive welfare services because local authority social work overly focuses on child protection rather than family support oriented services. In view of the refocusing initiative social workers have the legislative backing to approach families alleged of border-line child abuse to use the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families as guidance with a view to finding appropriate social work intervention practice that may address the needs of these children. In the UK the legislation on children welfare recommends all referrals of child abuse cases must initially be offered a comprehensive child in need assessment except in emergency cases or where it is suspected that a child is suffering from significant harm (Platt, 2006).

The Children Act (1989) is the main government legislation aiming to revolutionise social work practice and proceedings concerning the welfare of children in the UK. The Act considers the primary responsibility of child-rearing rests with families and therefore, children interests will be served best by supporting them to grow up with their own family. Also the Children Act (1989) help harmonise family autonomy and to enable families to exercise their parental responsibilities without unnecessary state interference and for the state to support and protect children only where parents are failing to meet their children needs (www.devon.gov.uk/child-protection-procedures accessed 09/01/2010). Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need within their area. The legislation requires local authorities to assess a child's developmental needs so as to promote their welfare, and by doing so children are supported to live with their families (www.devon.gov.uk/child-protection-procedures accessed 09/01/2010).

In the contrary, Section 47 requires local authority to investigate when there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm. The investigation will include an objective of the needs of the child, including the risk of abuse and need for protection, as well as the family's ability to meet those needs (www.devon.gov.uk/child-protection-procedures accessed 09/01/2010). Thus, social workers need to make judgements in child abuse cases on how to intervene so that children do not continue to leave in dangerous and risky situations or of removing children unnecessarily from their family. The dilemma of striking the right balance between child protection and child welfare services in child abuse cases is for social workers to base their judgement on pragmatic assessment of the needs of the children and the parental capability to cater for their children needs.



In social work practice, it is important for social workers to base their work on theoretical assumptions, whether they are aware of them or not (Munro, 1998). This theoretical framework guides social workers in deciding who or what should be the primary focus of assessment or intervention and, as well as the objectives and the processes of social work practice (Healy, 2005). Many other writers like Fook et al (2000), who are of the view that social workers need to use theories in their work practice, also emphasized why social workers should develop the capacity to identify, use and develop social work theory in their practice (Healy, 2005). Social work has its roots in the struggle of society to deal with poverty and its consequential problems. Many researchers link social work practice to the ideology of charity work, but in a broader perspective social work embraces both the preventative and protective aspect of vulnerable people within society (www.globalvision.org Accessed on 14/12/2009).

In the history of British social work practice, the term encompasses the use of social work knowledge and skills within the framework of social care organisation so as to enhance the provision of services and practice which is consistent with the BASW Codes of Practice (www.basw.co.uk/ accessed 01/02/2010). This concept of social work practice promotes protection, safeguarding and social inclusion and provides life opportunities for people using social work services. In the code of ethics, it is emphasise that for social work practice to be successful, social work agencies must work effectively with other affiliated organisations such as the police service, health service, and education service so as to promote children welfare (www.basw.co.uk/ accessed 01/02/2010). In the vast majority of instances social work practice is a collaborative activity not an individual activity whether as social worker employee or an independent social worker. Social work practice aims at changing people's behaviours in the manner that will provide life options for people and to facilitate easy transitions of life situations (Smale et al, 2000). Social work is a demanding profession which is based on a body of values, knowledge, skills and personal attributes, and requires the commitment of social workers to continually upgrade their knowledge and skills in their field of practice. The International Federation of Social Workers states that:

'Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognizes the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organizational, social and cultural changes' (www.ifsw.org accessed 14/01/2010 p.1).

According Graham (1999) the history of African heritage in the development of social welfare and social work is found in the recesses of British history but it remains largely unacknowledged and sparsely documented as social work continues to be steeped in the professional milieu of an existing ethnocentric knowledge base and value system (p.263). Research evidence (Graham, 1999) shows that social work practice within the black African community in the UK has emerged out of concerns about the well-being of children and families whose experience of enslavement and servitude necessitated efforts to improve their life conditions. The Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) recognises that the effects of racism on black African people are incompatible with the values of social work and therefore seeks to combat racist practices in all areas of its responsibilities (CCETSW, 1996). Dominelli (2002) advocates for anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory social work practice to delineate oppression and racism which breed some of the social problems that affect traditional social work target populations. Earlier research by Platt (1999) shows an increasing awareness among social workers that the traditional social work models are not effective in addressing the needs of African people in the UK. However, the current social work theory and practice which is founded on ethnocentric value systems, lack the necessary resources to address the needs of African families and their children (Chand, 1999). It is therefore pertinent for social work practice to be designed to reflect other diverse views and cultural values, particularly African families and their children who are more open to surveillance, as they also show high level of poverty.

Contemporary Social Work Practices

It was not until the mid twentieth century when the International Federation of Social Workers, defined the core aim of social work to be alleviating poverty, liberating vulnerable and oppressed people with the ultimate aim to promote social inclusion (Horner, 2003). The Modernisation agenda introduced by the Labour government in 1997 set the foundation for the concept of collaboration and partnership to be established between professions and services. Following up to this, the concept of partnership and collaboration have become a working document for social work practice and underpin long term planning (Whittington, 2003). Crisp et al (2003) also found that when social workers engage with other inter-professional and multi-agency practice, it promotes prospect for common grounds with other professions, and the potential for professional differences to be recognised and negotiated.

In contemporary social work practice, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) code of ethics emphasizes the importance for social workers to understand the centrality of relationships as an important vehicle for social change. Social workers are encouraged to engage service users as partners in helping them to attain the needed change. Most research shows that social work assessment and intervention are inherent features of contemporary practice in social work services. Social work assessment represents the entry of a systematic approach to establish a mutual relationship between a social worker and service users. Social work practice is characterised by the new balance in the relationship between the state and the family as social workers remain responsible for managing child protection risks and providing child welfare services within an integrated system. In Spratt and Callan (2004) study it is realised that the balance between safeguarding and promoting welfare services for children in need who are living with their families in the UK has not yet been achieved as set out in the government policy developments. Lord Laming's Report on the death of Victoria Climbie lead to the publication of the document, Every Child Matters, which set the priority for children not only to be protected from significant harm but to be safeguarded and their welfare promoted (Parton, 2006).

A study paper published by the Department of Health (2001) indicates that many families regardless of their ethnicity and religion, struggle to bring up their children in conditions of poverty and social exclusions. Social exclusions and poverty make it extremely difficult for many African families to develop the appropriate parenting skills needed for proper child-rearing, and sometimes may overshadow child maltreatment. Pierce & Bozalek (2004) suggest that many African families seeking asylum or migrated to the UK are unfamiliar with the British child protection system, as similar state systems do not exist in Africa, and therefore find the systems intimidating and unfriendly. Brophy et al (2003) argued that poverty among black African families may affect the development of many African children and their parent's capacity to provide for them. It is therefore paramount that poverty is considered fully understand by social work professionals during the initial assessment of families involved in alleged child abuse cases. Platt (1999) argued that the refocusing of social work intervention is a result of increasing number of child protection allegations referred into the system, and the proportion of cases leading to social work interventions. This type of intervention draws a large number of children into the child protection system compared to children who are subject to further welfare procedures.

In the context of social work practices, it is important to consider the effectiveness of the child protection system, as it seems to achieve as much as could be expected in terms of the limited aim of preventing further abuse to identifiable vulnerable children. Social workers are trained to be able to facilitate or empower families and their children to bring about social change, but specialised skills and knowledge are needed to identify problems with families and their children involve in child protection and also to find sound interventions that would bring about the necessary social change. Crisp et al (2003) states that social work assessment 'involves collecting and analysing information about people with the aim of understanding their situation and determining recommendations for any further professional intervention' (p.3). Monnickendam & Monnikendam (2009) argue that the fundamental dilemma facing contemporary social work practice is the extent and manner to commit to social welfare policy or the extent to direct its efforts primarily to the poor and needy. Arguably social work practice that engage in social welfare policy tends to address poverty through macro-level intervention which aims at promoting social change, but social work practices aiming at individual families living in poverty result in poverty alleviation by assisting those in need to develop better lifestyle strategies. Thus, Monnickendam & Monnikendam (2009) research shows that the aim of social work practice in attaining social change and dealing with poverty is hardly attainable only by micro practice. Henceforth the relationship between the mission of social work with regard to poverty and the type of social work intervention needed to protect and safeguard children from further abuse becomes a difficult challenge for social workers.



Research evidence suggests that contemporary social workers are faced with the dilemma of how to manage the complex needs of many poor African families so as to help promote social change. According to Okitikpi and Aymer's (2003) social work professionals working with African refugees are often frustrated and poorly resourced to manage families who suffer from difficult lifestyle experiences due to poverty and social exclusions. Also Okitikpi and Aymer (2003) are of the view that problems of poverty and working in partnership with African families alleged of child abuse or maltreatment would be better and easier managed should social workers engage in open direct interventions. Bernard & Gupta (2008) highlights the difficulties social workers face when assessing and making interventions regarding African children and their families whose cultures differ from the majority white population in the UK. Therefore the argument that the mission of social work is to promote social change and alleviate poverty in society by engaging in social welfare policy rather than interventions at family levels is currently the pivot of strong debate. The term social work intervention usually describes work undertaken with individuals, families, groups and communities. In this context the term is to cover the use of social work knowledge and skills when using it within a social care organisation to facilitate the provision of services and practice consistent with the Codes of Practice and with standards of service and practice, and to promote social inclusion and life opportunities of people using the services (Scottish Executive, 2005).

Types of Social Work Intervention

According to Elde-Woodward (2002), there are three fundamental methods or stages of intervention. The first method of intervention, Elde-Woodward (2002) describes as macro social work intervention which involves directing social work practice to society or communities as a whole. This type of social work practice includes policy forming and advocacy on a national or international scale. The second method of intervention is mezzo social work practice, which involves working with agencies, small organizations, and other small groups directly or indirectly related to social work practice to make policies or developing programs for a particular community. The third method of intervention is the micro social work practice which involves offering direct service to individuals and families Elde-Wood, 2002). Hartnett et al (2005) research on the role perceptions of social workers and social work students shows that only very few actually engage in policy-practice that focus on social policy formulation and advocacy.

There are a wide variety of activities that falls under the category of social work practice and social work professionals works in many different settings of employment. Basically social workers engage in clinical practice, find themselves working with individuals or families. However, social workers who serve in community practice are engage with the mezzo or macro stages of social work (Elde-Wood, 2002). Spratt et al (2004) findings shows that social work intervention with individuals or families is the most popular and effective method of intervention that bring about social change in individual lives. Social work intervention aims to help children or families to identify, and to establish appropriate relationships with social workers that will enhance their livelihood (Scottish Executive, 2005). The purpose of the intervention is diverse and ranges from changing behaviours to changing life situations and transitions (Smale, Tuson and Statham, 2000).

Identifying and acknowledging child abuse

Many schools of thought argue that social workers could assist families living in poverty to identify issues of child abuse by showing empathy, establishing working relationships and engaging in appropriate interventions. In any of these situations there are a number of factors making African families living in poverty to be alleged of maltreating or abusing their children. Some of these factors are poor parenting practices, lack of knowledge about the laws pertaining in the country of residence and ethno-centric discrimination and racism (Elder-Woodward, 2002). Child abuse cases referred by other agencies for the attention of local authority social services may result in interventions that usually draw children into child protection system. Such interventions may not always factor the financial and social circumstances of such parents in the initial assessment process. For instance, parents living on meagre income may find it difficult to provide adequate care for their children, or such parents may not consider the legal implications of leaving their children alone in the house and going to work. Most often than not such children are seen wandering the streets or becoming school dropouts due to poor parental care and support.

Intervention within the social work process is not a static, snapshot or a holistic process whereby social workers arrives at definitive answer to protect vulnerable children from further harm. However, the fundamental interpersonal skills require of social workers is the key to identifying the possible causes of child abuse or maltreatment in a family setting, through the building of appropriate relationship with the families and collaborating with other interested agencies (Lloyd and Taylor, 1990). Most often than not social workers take ethnocentric and prejudice approach at the initial contact with African families accused of child abuse and consequently arrive at a judgemental decision. Intervention skills used by social workers fits most easily into the traditional frameworks in which social work is usually taught to qualifying students, but less easily recognized as intervention by most social workers once in practice. Arguably, the core skills of intervention have not been grasped in its entity by practising social workers and hence are not consciously transferred across situations where is most needed.

Intervening child abuse

Social work involves intervening children and family's situation and problems through appraisal of what information is available and what information is gathered from the family after initially assessing the family's financial and social status, with collaboration with other organisations and professionals working with the family (Scottish Executive, 2005). Many authors argue that social worker should lead families alleged of child abuse through the intervention process, highlighting and explaining the importance of working together to agree on the most appropriate intervention needed to bring social change. Furthermore, social workers may use a range of knowledge, models and frameworks to decide what method of intervention is needed to achieve the desired result (Scottish Executive, 2005). Social workers need to ensure that information gathered from the assessment process leads to informed intervention, through establishing a better working relationship of trust with families and other professionals. Social workers recognition and understanding of parents behavioural patterns, complicated with poverty, understanding of diverse cultures and building of good working relationships are vital to successful interventions (Scottish Executive, 2005).

There is evidence in the literature to suggest that social workers and other related professionals have difficulty fostering good working relationship with families alleged of child abuse cases as such families have no trust in the child protection system (Chand,1999). Therefore social workers need to develop the requisite skills and behaviours to understand the problems of families living below the poverty line, and who may have little or no knowledge of the child protection system in the UK (Bernard & Gupta, 2008). In recognition of the difficulties inherent in deploying effective interventions the Department of Health introduced the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DoH, 2000).

Social Work Intervention and environmental influences

Bernard & Gupta (2008) literature review on black African children and child protection system emphasized the adverse effects of poverty and social exclusion on parenting capacity and children's development, which have been identified as a major factor in most families involved in childcare proceedings (Brophy et al, 2003). African families are proportionally more likely to live in poverty than majority whites in Britain as many undertake low-income paid jobs (Kyambi, 2005), have their rights to support services withdrawn under section 17 of the 1989 Children Act (Kholi, 2006) and income, employment opportunities and access to support services are determined by their immigration and asylum status (Bernard & Gupta, 2008).

According to (Montith & McLaughlin, 2005) the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, recognises the need to protect children who experience a deprived childhood due to families living in poverty, and requires all governments to ensure that all children have an adequate standard of living as a basic right. The UN recognizes that deprivation during childhood undermines the fundamental rights which children, as well as adults, should enjoy, including access to key services such as health, education and social services (Monteith & McLaughlin, 2005). Against this background, (Monteith & McLaughlin, 2005) the Labour government pledge to reducing poverty in the UK country was a step forward to achieve social change among families; however, the agenda did not specifically define the focus groups that are mainly living in extreme poverty. The Labour government's anti poverty strategy involves policies to increase the incomes of poor families by improving child-related benefits and tax credits and the introduction of a national minimum wage (Monteith & McLaughlin, 2005). For instance, the government's Sure Start initiative and the National Childcare Strategy in the UK provide affordable childcare provision for working parents. Moreover, the publication of the document Every Child Matters set outs the government approach to the wellbeing of children and young people (DoH, 2003). Monteith & NcLaughlin (2005) argued that the sure start initiative provides a lot of support to parents struggling to care for their children, but the limited number of branches across the country only seems to assist the majority white families.

Kelly & Meldgard (2005) argued that children are not necessarily drawn into public care only because their parents are not capable of providing adequate childcare but also due to the withdrawal of all support services in accordance of the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act. Moreover, Bernard & Gupta (2008) highlight the fact that families struggle to provide for their children for reasons such as inadequate housing, unemployment, poverty, and social exclusion particularly where families have just migrated from countries in war and famine. Chand (1999) study highlights that any assessment process that reflects the inadequate provision of care as the failure of black people and therefore used as indicator of child abuse rather than the effects of racial inequality is in itself racist.

Social Work Intervention and parental behaviours

The history of over-representation of black children in the child protection system, according to Chand (1999) dates back to the 1960s. Research shows that black children are quick to enter into the child protection system than their white counterparts, for reasons such as parenting behaviours, culture and social and economic problems. Many research work relating to the differences in child-rearing and poverty in the UK show that black African families are often at risk of being stereotyped by social workers as not capable of parenting their children in the most appropriate way (Bernard & Gupta, 2008). Therefore, for social work practice to be successful in contemporary Britain, social workers need to understand issues that frame the experiences of African children at risk of significant harm, and not to create the general impression that all African families are not capable of caring for their children. According to Chand (1999) 'despite the very obviousness of the diversity of childhoods, we live and work in a society which tends to assume that there is just one kind of childhood that is normal and o

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